7 Ways Government Employees Differ from Private Sector Employees


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 17% of working Americans are employed by the public sector. Here on Govloop, we all know what makes us different than private sector employees, but what does the research say?

A look at the available research revealed 7 surprising (and not so surprising!) ways that government employees are unique from our private sector counterparts:

1) We’re more educated

Public sector employees are 18.4% more likely to have an advanced degree than our private sector counterparts. This is likely due to the more specialized nature of public sector jobs vs private sector jobs, but I also like to attribute it to our overall motivation and passion!

2) …. But the more educated we get, the less we are compensated compared to our private-sector counterparts

According to the Congressional Budget Office, (federal) government employees have higher total compensation than private sector employees at all levels of education with the exception of doctorate and professional degrees. This research took into account total compensation, not just wages, and illustrated that as education increases, the wage gap between federal and private sector workers decreased. For example, for those without a bachelors degree, the pay gap was large (government employees’ total compensation was over 10% more), but once a federal employee gets a masters degree, compensation becomes roughly equivalent and then decreases compared to private industry for PhD’s and those with professional degrees.

3) We’re more likely to vote

Several studies, such as this one  have shown that government employees have significantly higher voter turnout than private sector employees. Whether this is because we are more civic-minded, more educated, have more flexible schedules or have a vested economic interest in the outcome of the election is up for debate, but either way, public sector employees are actively participating in the democratic process at a higher rate, and no matter your political affiliation, that’s fantastic!

4)… for Democrats

According to Gallup, public sector employees are far more likely vote for Democratic Party candidates than private sector employees (depending on whether they are state, federal, union or non-union, the percentage ranges between 9-20%). Although, surprisingly, COLA pay has increased most for federal employees when Republicans are in office (although there are many factors involved here, including the rate of inflation, economic growth and action by congress).

5) We’re more diverse

The public sector workforce is more diverse than the private sector. The public sector employs a higher percentage of minorities, women and people with disabilities than the private sector does and this percentage is ever-increasing. We all benefit from this, as differing backgrounds and perspectives spark innovation.

6) We are more likely to have poor job satisfaction than our private sector counterparts

According to the “Best Places to Work in the Federal Government,” public sector employees are 13% less satisfied than our private sector counterparts. Most of the complaints regarded issues with management, recognition and colleague cooperation, which won’t surprise many of us.

7) but we LOVE what we do

Fear not, public sector worker, there’s a bright side to those dismal poll numbers. On the question “Do you like the kind of work you do?” we scored higher than our private sector counterparts.

This is where you government innovators come in – clearly, government employees love what they do but are still dissatisfied, how can we re-structure management and performance evaluation/recognition to achieve greater job satisfaction? Sounds like a topic for another blog post!

What do you think about these results? Post your thoughts below (but don’t kill the messenger!).

Samantha McCormick is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Adelia Hitt

I have a few associates who have a masters degree and a son with his masters degree. From what I hear the private sector pays more for those with a masters degree than the federal government. I wonder also if voter participation is because we are federal workers and perhaps more aware of the consequences of elections or if it is because we are better educated and more aware of the consequences. This is an interesting article and I would like to see more statistics on the workforce. Thank you.


Where are numbers 2 and 4 of the 7? The page I am viewing is missing both. Interesting content. I find the info about voting strange. Most of my coworkers vote republican.

Patricia Maley

The assertion that “government” employees receive higher compensation for advanced degrees is perhaps true for Federal government employees, but should not be considered a golden nugget of truth for local government employees. The author should more clearly employ the filter of what government level is being addressed in future publications.

William Ulbrich

This is an interesting piece, but for some reason item numbers 2 and 4 seem to have been omitted. Items 1,3,5,6,and 7 were all interesting so I am sorry number 2 and 4 were not include, I am sure they would be of interest also.


Right on the money. However, need suggestions on the root cause of poor job satisfaction and action steps to increase job satisfaction.

Carol Garceau

I am assuming this data is regarding mostly Federal public employees. I work at the State level and we do not receive COLA increases. We were finally lucky enough to get a 2% raise last year after two years of furloughs followed by three years of increased contributions by employees with NO pay increases whatsoever. That 2% after five years really does not come close to COLA. During the 16 years I’ve worked for the state the biggest increase we ever saw was 2.5% but mostly it would be maybe 1-2% increases which does not keep up with cost of living. The only way to stay above water is working OT (if you are in a position in which that is allowed) or by promoting.

Samantha McCormick

Hi Carol,

Federal employees feel your pain. We have received 1% for the past 2 years and we got nothing at at all for 3 years in a row before that.


“Public sector employees are 18.4% more likely to have an advanced degree than our private sector counterparts. This is likely due to the more specialized nature of public sector jobs vs private sector jobs, but I also like to attribute it to our overall motivation and passion!”

Public sector employees may have more (public) schooling, but they’re much less educated. In civics, for instance, consider that half of those aged 18 to 29 voted in the 1972 presidential election (Macedo, 2004). However, by the late 90s that group’s voter participation had dropped to about one-third (Macedo, 2004). Moreover, 58 percent of college freshmen polled by UCLA in 1966 considered it important to keep up with politics; by the end of the 90s, just one quarter thought so (Macedo 2004). It is true that young Americans are more schooled than ever before. Still, they pay far less attention than previous generations did to traditional news sources and civic-minded current events (Macedo, 2004).

Moreover, the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) collects test results from 65 countries for its academic rankings that are released every three years. The latest results from 2012 show that U.S. students aged 15 ranked below average in mathematics in the world’s most developed countries; they were close to average in science and reading. In mathematics, 29 nations outperformed the United States by a statistically significant margin, up from 23 three years ago, reports The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) (2012) who published the study. “In science, 22 education systems scored above the U.S. average, up from 18 in 2009” (Heitin, 2013, 1). In reading, 19 other countries scored higher than U.S. students—up from nine in 2009, when the last assessment was performed.

This lack of civic participation and underperformance in academics is inexcusable given the glut of wealth American’s enjoy comparatively. And although the federal, state, and local government throws over a trillion dollars (880 billion from state and local governments) at the problems of state funded education annually, the results have been nothing short of failure (usgovernmentspending.com, 2016).

Private schools have outperformed their public counterparts in almost every matrix for which we have data. Based on the 2003 National assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data, when student characteristics are estimated consistently across school sectors, private schools outperformed public schools at all grade levels in both math and reading in all estimates but one, 4th-grade math (Peterson & Llaudet, 2006); when a particular model is used to estimate the differences in private and public school math outcomes, parity was achieved. However, private schools prevailed when other models were used (Peterson & Laudet, 2006). Additionally, public schools rarely teach basic civics. A study published by the Academic Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) noted that a majority of students don’t know or care about their own country’s system or functions of government. High school and college graduates alike perform poorly when answering basic questions regarding American democratic principles, ideas of federalism, republicanism, political processes, or the power and functions of government institutions. Survey after survey shows that recent college graduates are shockingly ignorant of America’s history and heritage; they cannot identify the term lengths of members of Congress, basic understanding of the First amendment, or the origin or meaning of the separation of powers. They do not know who wrote Constitution, when Madison wrote it, and nearly 10% say that Judith Sheindlin (television’s “Judge Judy”) sits on the Supreme Court (ACTA, 2016).


This article is a POS. Of course you vote more, you want to ensure your jobs are not lost. Its a total conflict of interest. It would be like giving me a vote in whether or not I get a raise or get to keep my job. I don’t have that option and I shouldn’t have that option. Its also no surprise either that public sector employees are typically Democrats. Republicans tend to grow government less than Democrats in the same manner as Liberals typically expend public social welfare more than conservatives who believe individuals should be able to determine personally how much and to whom they want to donate. As for the education piece…oh my god that is infuriating. So at EVERY single education level, except the very top, federal employees get higher compensation. From janitors to people with masters degrees federal employees make more. Our country is too broke to be fixed I think…